Friday, September 30, 2011

Spotted Sandpiper Chick

The spotted sandpiper is the most common sandpiper found in North America. During the summer breeding season they can be found along most any type of wetlands in the northern half of the continent. During the winter these birds migrate down to the gulf coast, Mexico, Central or South America. They share the genus Actitis with the common sandpiper which is found in Europe and Asia.
One of the most interesting thing about the spotted sandpiper is that the female is the one that arrives on the breeding range first. She then will stake out and defend a territory. With other species that is typically the males role. Following through on the whole role reversal it is the male who stays to raise the young while the female will often go off to have a family with another male. So most likely this chick was raised by its father. Since the female can store sperm for about a month it is possible that it was raised by a foster father.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lake Superior by Samuel Griswold Goodrich

Father of Lakes! thy waters bend,
Beyond the eagle's utmost view,
When, throned in heaven, he sees thee send
Back to the sky its world of blue.

Boundless and deep the forests weave
Their twilight shade thy borders o'er,
And threatening cliffs, like giants, heave
Their rugged forms along thy shore.

Nor can the light canoes, that glide
Across thy breast like things of air,
Chase from thy lone and level tide,
The spell of stillness deepening there.

Yet round this waste of wood and wave,
Unheard, unseen, a spirit lives,
That, breathing o'er each rock and cave,
To all, a wild, strange aspect gives.

The thunder-riven oak, that flings
Its grisly arms athwart the sky,
A sudden, startling image brings
To the lone traveller's kindled eye.

The gnarled and braided boughs that show
Their dim forms in the forest shade,
Like wrestling serpents seem, and throw
Fantastic horrors through the glade.

The very echoes round this shore,
Have caught a strange and gibbering tone,
For they have told the war-whoop o'er,
Till the wild chorus is their own.

Wave of the wilderness, adieu--
Adieu, ye rocks, ye wilds, ye woods!
Roll on, thou Element of blue,
And fill these awful solitudes!

Thou hast no tale to tell of man.
God is thy theme. Ye sounding caves,
Whisper of Him, whose mighty plan,
Deems as a bubble all your waves!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Voyageurs National Park

Voyaguers National Park is the only National Park in Minnesota. Voyageurs was established in 1975 on Minnesota's northern border with Canada. The park was named after the French Canadian fur traders that travelled the area in birch bark canoes. Many visitors still come to the park to canoe, boat, kayak or fish. Over 344 square miles of the 220,000 acre park are covered in water. The major lakes in the park include Rainy Lake, Kabetogamma Lake, Namakan Lake and Sand Point Lake. There are also a number of small lakes, rivers, and other wetlands in the park. Boaters can access the lakes at boat launches located at the 3 visitors centers. This photo is of the boat launch at the Kabetogamma Lake Visitors Center.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Karner Blue

There are about 1200 species, not counting the plant species, in North America that are on the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species List. Many people are familiar with some of the larger mammals and birds, such as bison, cougars, whooping cranes, and California condors, but did you know that there are 10 different butterfly species that are also on the list.
Each year I make a trip or two out to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin. One of the big reasons for the trip is to photograph the endangered Karner blue butterfly. The Karner blue is a subspecies of the Melissa blue. It was named after Karner NY where it was first discovered. The Karner was classified as a separate sub species because it has a separate range, Karners are found around the Great Lakes while the Melissa is found through out western North America, and because it has a different larval host plant. The Melissa blue larva (caterpillar) feed on plants in the pea family, such as Astragalus, Lotus, Lupinus, Glycyrrhiza and Mediccago species, while the Karner larva feeds only on wild lupine. Since it is limited to one source of food the Karner blue population is limited by the amount of wild lupine. Unfortunately the amount of lupine growing in the range has been decreasing due to land development and a lack of natural disturbance, such as fire or large mammal grazing. Natural disturbances help to eliminate many of the other plants that tend to choke out the lupine.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

The rose-breasted grosbeak is a medium sized passerine. They summer in the deciduous woodlands of the north eastern half of the United States and up into central Canada. They winter in the tropical forests of Central America and northwestern South America. They are omnivores, eating a combination of seeds, tree buds, fruit and insects. They will sometimes cross breed with the black-headed grosbeak where there ranges cross in the middle of the United States.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Darner Invasion

Most of the dragonflies up here in Minnesota are gone. Our cold nights have for the most part finished off the season. That is not true everywhere in the U.S. however. Yesterday while a football game between Miami and Kansas State was postponed due to a storm, Sun Life Stadium, where they were playing, was invaded by a cloud of dragonflies. If you would like to read more here is a link.
It was hard to tell exactly what type of dragon that they were from the pictures that were provided but they appeared to be a member of the darner family. The Canada darner, pictured above, is one of the most common darners that we see around here. In the second photo the darners are mating. Shortly after the picture was taken she flew off back to the water to lay her eggs.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wild Lupine

Lupine is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers that we see around here. They usually begin to bloom in May and most of the flowers are gone before the end of June. They are also usually one of the first wildflowers to grow into a new area, such as a field that has been cleared or after a forest fire. Unfortunately it does not take them long to be choked out by other plants and grasses. So as our fire protection and suppression techniques have gotten better the amount of lupine out in the wild has decreased. Which has hurt species like the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rough-legged Hawk

Today is the first day of Autumn. I love the fall with the warm sunny days and cool crisp nights. Fall also means that different birds are beginning to move into the area. One species of bird that has begum to show up is the rough-legged hawk. One has already been reported in the Twin Cities where it wintered last year. These photos where taken at Crex Meadows last fall.
Rough-legged hawks spend their summer in Canada north to the Arctic Circle. They get their name from the feathers that cover their legs down to their feet. The feet themselves are smaller the normal for a Buteo hawk because most places that they can perch in their summer habitat are very small. Rough-legged hawks come in two different color morphs. The dark morph, pictured in the first photo, is not as common as the light morph, second photo. There is also an amount of cross breading between the two morphs leading to different intermediate individuals.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sandhill Cranes at Dusk

Here in the north the our short Summer has come to an end. Even though Fall does not officially begin until tomorrow I have been seeing the signs of Autumn for the past couple of weeks. Leaves on the trees have just begun to change color, woolly bear caterpillars are on the move and the sandhills cranes have begun to descend upon Crex Meadows.
Each Fall the sandhill cranes migrate south for the winter. Before they begin the big migration they gather in staging areas where they get ready for the long flight. Crex Meadows in Wisconsin is one of the places that the cranes use as a staging area. There are quite a few fields around Crex where the cranes can find food but the main reason that they come to Crex are the shallow wetlands that the cranes roost in over night. With their long legs the cranes will often spend the night in pools that are a couple of feet deep. This helps to protect them from land based predators who would have to cross the water to get to the cranes, alerting them to the danger. Many people come to Crex, in the Fall, to watch the cranes fly out from the wetlands to the fields near dawn or return from the fields at dusk. The cranes will usually take their leave at some time in October.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bee Macro

Red-eared Slider

Red-eared sliders are a turtle native to the south eastern United States, this photo was taken in south Texas. They are mostly aquatic coming out usually only to sun bathe or lay eggs. Red-eared sliders are the most popular pet turtles in the United States. Released pets have established populations outside of their normal range and have even become invasive in some areas, such as parts of California where they are able to out compete the native western pond turtle. Like most turtles red-eared sliders are omnivores. Their diet consists of fish, frogs, crustaceans, aquatic insects and aquatic plants.


Jays are medium sized passerines that are part of the Corvidae family. They come in a variety of colors and are found through out the world. In North America we have 10 different types of jays in 5 different genus. Probably the most common of the North American jays is the blue jay. Blue jays are found in the eastern half of North America. They share the Cyanocitta genus with the Stellar's jay which is found in parts of western North America.
The genus Aphelocoma consists of three types of scrub jay as well as the Mexican jay. The western scrub-jay, pictured above is the most common scrub jay. It is found in the south western United States and parts of Mexico. The Florida scrub-jay is found only in Florida and the island scrub-jay is found on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California.
Gray Jays are the only member of the Perisoreus genus found in North America. Their range includes Canada, Alaska, the northern United States and the Rocky Mountains. Living in the north these birds will often cache food to help them survive the winter months. They are very intelligent birds, as are most members of the Corvidae family, and very inquisitive. They are often referred to by the nickname camp robber.
The green jay is a member of the genus Cyanocorax. Their range includes parts of south eastern Texas and eastern Mexico. They can also be found in Central America and northwestern South America. In North America the only other jay found with in the same range as the green jay is the brown jay. Both are in the genus Cyanocorax but it is very easy to distinguish between them since the green jay is very colorful and the brown jay is mostly brown.

Monday, September 19, 2011

White-faced Meadowhawk

Meadowhawks are members of the genus Sypetrum. They are a part of the skimmer family of dragonflies, which includes most of the colorful dragonflies. Meadowhawks are medium sized dragonflies that are quite common from midsummer into early fall.
Most mature male meadowhawks are red in color while the female and young males are usually gold. Several of the meadowhawk species are so similar that they can only be identified under a microscope. Fortunately the white-faced meadow hawk is the only meadowhawk with a white face. When they first emerge the white face is more of an off white color and can make it difficult to identify them but by the time that they mature, like the ones above, the white is very striking making identification fairly easy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Northern Crescent

I believe that this may be a northern crescent. The northern crescent is a butterfly that can be found in a variety of habitats in Canada and the northern half of the United States. They look very similar to the pearl crescent, which over laps most of their range. When I help survey butterflies in the early Summer with the St Paul Audubon Society our guide and butterfly expert usually will not try and distinguish between the two species because they are so similar.
The northern crescent larvae, caterpillar, feeds on plants of the aster family. Eggs are laid in the summer with the butterfly over wintering in the third stage of its larval form. When spring comes the caterpillar wakes from its dormant state and begins to eat. They will go through their final metamorphosis around middle of June to the middle of July.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Flower Purgatory Creek

Verbena is a genus of plants in the Verbenaceae faemily. The genus contains approximately 250 different species. Some Verbena species are annuals, only lasting a single season, while others are perennial, come back year after year. Through out history many different cultures, such as the Egyptians and Romans, have viewed Verbana as a type of holy plant. Even ancient Christians used to refer to common vervain as Holy Herb.
Although common vervain is not native to North America it has been introduced there and it is now invasive. Other species of Verbana are native to North America. The two species above are Verbana that are native to the area that I live. The top photo is an example of blue vervain and the bottom is an example of hoary vervain. Although both were photographed at Purgatory Creek they prefer different types of habitat. Blue vervain prefers to live in areas with wet soil while hoary vervain usually is found where the soil is dry.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Endangered Whooping Cranes

For the second time this year we have had some very special visitors in the area in which I live. A pair of endangered whooping cranes has been spotted down near Northfield, MN for the past week. I had made a couple of trips earlier this week after getting off of work but I was not able to locate the birds. So I took a half day off today and spent some time looking around and the third time was the charm. I found the pair of whoopers foraging for food in a field just a few blocks south west of where they had been seen earlier. They were accompanied by a pair of sandhill cranes. It was interesting to see the two species side by side. These were greater sandhill cranes so they are just under four feet tall but since the whooper is the tallest bird in North America they were about a half a foot taller.
Whooping cranes are on the endangered species list. There is one naturally migrating flock of whoopers left in the world. They nest up in Canada and winter down on the Gulf Coast of Texas. In 1940 the population of this flock fell to a low of only 22 birds. Through conservation of the birds and vital habitat their numbers have increased about 4% per year until they numbered about 281 in 2010. Conservationist are worried however that if a disease or a disaster of some sort could were to hit the flock it could destroy the entire population. So in 1975 several whooper eggs from the Canada flock where transferred into the nests of sandhill cranes in Idaho. Unfortunately when the birds matured they mated with sandhill cranes instead of other whoopers. In 1999 a new group called the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership formed with the purpose of building a secondary whooper population that would breed in Wisconsin and migrate down to Florida for the winter. You can tell that these birds are a part of that population by the bands on their legs, see the first picture. They also have a tracking device attached to their legs.